Scientists have hailed the “incredible” discovery of four new species of sea creature in deep ocean waters off the coast of Scotland.
A large sea snail, two kinds of clam and a marine worm were found during Marine Scotland surveys around the Rockall plateau in the north Atlantic, having previously avoided detection despite decades of research in the area, hundreds of miles off the north-west coast.
Researchers say the existence of the clams and worm at a single site could indicate the presence of a cold seep, where hydrocarbons are released from the sea bed.
If confirmed it would be the first cold seep to be discovered in the Rockall area.
Jim Drewery from Marine Scotland Science, who oversaw the research on the deep water invertebrates, said: “The discovery of these new species is absolutely incredible, especially when you consider that the sea snail measures a relatively large 10cm (4 inches) yet has gone undetected for decades.
“The project we were undertaking was designed to provide advice that would help balance both commercial fishing and conservation interests.
“The potential cold seep and its dependent community of marine life is a great find as it is just the sort of habitat we were hoping to pick up on these surveys.”
Mr Drewery said he was particularly excited by the discovery of the marine worm Antonbrunnia, the first of its kind to be found in the Atlantic.
It was discovered by international bivalve expert Dr Graham Oliver inside one of the clams he was confirming as a new species at his laboratory at the National Museum of Wales.
Both the clams and marine worm were discovered around 260 miles west of the Hebrides at a depth of about three quarters of a mile. The sea snails were found in water around a mile deep over an area about 80-260 miles west of the islands.
The sea snail Volutopsius scotiae and clam Thyasira scotiae have been named after the research vessel MRV Scotia while the clam Isorropodon mackayi has been named after mollusc expert David W Mackay.